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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Like a puff of smoke?

It certainly seems as though the team who were not so long ago runaway leaders of the Premiership and unarguably the best side in the league — have blown it. Arsenal’s capitulation against a ‘physical’ (they managed to put three Arsenal players out until the end of the season) Bolton side on Saturday has left them needing United to slip-up in one of their final two games to have any chance of holding on to their title.

Arsenal fan or no, I really can’t believe I’m writing this. Just turning the clock back three weeks puts Arsenal in a position almost certain to retain their title. Just turning the clock back 71 hours and it looks as though Arsenal are in the driving seat with a 2-0 lead at Bolton.

I did say not so long ago that both Arsenal and United would drop points before the end of the season and I stand by that. If it’s not over this weekend then it’ll be a very interesting last day of the season, particularly if Everton need a point to qualify for Europe. I know who I’d rather be playing on the last day, and seeing as most Arsenal fans (including myself) have given up all hope of lifting the Premiership, there’ll be some party if by some miracle they do….

I like West Ham, and I like Glen Roeder. I hope he gets through his surgery without any problems and I hope West Ham stay up (I do of course hope one of those more than the other). Whether it’s dirty Bolton and the moaning Walrus faced git or Peter Reid’s Leeds that replace them in the drop I don’t mind.

I don’t necessarily think West Ham don’t deserve to go down - playing cavalier football with a tonka toy defence is suicide and David James, Trevor Sinclair and Lee Bowyer are overrated. There’s something about the club that appeals though, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defore are three of England’s finest young players (even if they are stagnating around inferior peers) and on their day they’re capable of scintillating passing and sublime attacking finesse. I’ve been saying they’re going down since October, and I still think they will. It would be nice if they didn’t though.

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Friday, April 25, 2003

always going to happen mkII

Sol Campbell has had his three match ban for an Ole Gunnar Sølskjær dive upheld, he’ll now miss the Cup Final and the final games of Arsenal’s season (after Bolton).

Quel Surprise.

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Thursday, April 24, 2003

always going to happen

It was certainly a good week for Champion’s League enthusiasts; Tuesday saw an unexpected 2-1 victory for ten man Juventus in the Nou Camp and yesterdays blistering, end-to-end game had to be seen to be believed. Big Ron’s Harlem Globetrotters nonsense aside, it really was like a basketball game - we score, you score, we score, you score….

I won’t bother with a detailed and witty match report, suffice to say that fat or not, class is class; and Ronaldo is class. Steve McManamanaman did pretty well too, played it around nicely and didn’t do much wrong, nothing special mind. For a team that conceded four (including two own goals) centre half Ivan Helguera impressed me, athletic, neat and tidy on the ball and good in the air - everything Rio Ferdinand should be for £30m. John O’Shea put in another impressive and precocious performance, getting himself a nutmeg on non-other that Luis Figo. Cheeky beggar.

In what can only be described as the other end of the scale, the Football League have just agreed in principle a number of ‘revolutionary’ proposals. Clubs going into administration will be docked points or relegated, third division teams will have income dependent wage caps imposed as of next year (second and first division teams by 2004-2005) and there will be six teams entered in to the playoffs in future. Looks like Wolves fans nervous couple of weeks in April will be moved to March from now on.

I think they’re all positive measures, the first two will help stabilise the clubs by making financial risk even more risky and make the end of year run-ins more exciting. On the other hand, you’ll less likely to see quality experienced players knocking around the lower leagues, but some would argue that’s a good thing.

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Friday, April 18, 2003

To The Wire

Well. The meeting of Arsenal and Manchester United on Wednesday night has left us no wiser as to the destination of the title. It did show us that Arsenal’s luck is not all bad — for the forty or so times Thierry Henry has been flagged offside whilst being two or three yards on this season, it would be unfair to say he didn’t deserve a poor decision in the other direction. Once again though, Arsenal’s sloppy defending let them down, conceding two goals from poor errors by Sol Campbell and whoever it was that should have been marking Giggs for the second (probably Lauren).

Any luck the Gunners had didn’t last. An investigation into finding the sniper that shot that repugnant little snotball Ole Gunnar Sølskjær is underway as we speak; whilst Sol Campbell gets the blame in the meantime. I’d just like to add here that my dislike of the Norwegian paper boy is not a new thing; I have nothing but contempt for someone who plays football for the love of the money. Someone who for his entire career (did you realise he is 30 now?) has been happy to be ‘super sub’ without any ambition to play every week — something he has not and will never get at United. Ferguson has shown on numerous occasions that he would rather start Giggs or Scholes up front than Sølskjær.

Nice to see Sir Alex Ferguson congratulating referee Mark Halsey after the game with a bottle of vintage whiskey and a ‘cheque’s in the post’ wink. To say in an interview following the match that ‘elbowing needs to be stamped out’ because it’s ‘ruining the game’ deserved only to have been met with laughter, and it would have done had it been said by someone capable of spotting their own inconceivably tunnel visioned view of the World. Ruud Van Nistelrooy and David Beckham have been responsible for the two most blatant and advantage gaining elbows this season (Sylvain Legwinski and Lee Bowyer in case you have the memory of a United fan), both of whom escaped any form of punishment.

I have to say that the over eager pitch invasion and adrenaline fuelled shakey handed clapping by the red faced Glaswegian whinger reminded me of a similar moment several years ago involving a curly perm and a sweaty interview on Sky Sports. Ferguson is now the antagonised rather than the antagoniser, interesting situation.

I feel quite honestly that Arsenal, rather than Manchester United, now have the upper hand. Last season, they didn’t really become unbeatable until player of the year Robert Pires was injured; it may just be that Sol Campbell’s suspension, Patrick Vieira’s injury and United’s perceived superiority (despite being played off the park for the full 92 minutes and merely scoring two goals on the break on Wednesday) may just galvanise the spirit of Arsenal players who’ve so far failed to deliver this season. It may well be the time for Ljungberg, Pires and Gilberto to shine.

It’s certainly going to be an interesting few weeks anyway, and I'm certain that either or both Man U and Arsenal will drop points before the end of the season, you mark my words.

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Thursday, April 10, 2003

The Real Thing

Who says the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly? In the space of just two days Mike Riley managed to adopt Swedish nationality and change his name to Anders Frisk. So as well as awarding Manchester United two dodgy penalties and showing Sami Hyppïa the red card last Saturday, he conveniently missed Fabien Barthez blatantly handling outside the box and failed to spot one of the most blatant penalties I’ve ever seen.

Not that it mattered to Real Madrid.

I’m quite confident when I say that Zinedine Zidane is the finest footballer I’ve ever seen (not counting grainy footage of World Cups past). Forget Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Romario; forget Figo, Raul, Gascoigne; Cantona? Bergkamp? Zola? not quite. Whoever you are, whomever you support, if you don’t adore watching Zidane play you’re not a football fan.

You could quite easily apply the same logic to the whole Real Madrid team. When the big players perform, this Madrid side could well be — in the words of an oft sung but rarely true terrace favourite — by far the greatest team, the World has ever seen. Sure, purists will talk about Puskas, Gento and Di Stefano; but I’ve never watched them on a Tuesday night with a few beers, so I couldn't say for sure.

With a back four consisting of three midfielders and Roberto Carlos, and a front 4 consisting of the current and no less than two former World Players of the Year and the highest goalscorer in the history of the Champions League; how could they not be exciting to watch?

To be fair on United, there’s not a team in the World that would have kept pace with Madrid on Tuesday, I can’t believe they kept it down to three to be honest. I fancy them to maybe get something out of the Old Trafford game; assuming Madrid try and coast it, but I don’t think Real could not score if they tried.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Pressure to perform

‘F*ckin’ brilliant mate you were f*ckin’ brilliant.’
— David Beckham to Wayne Rooney (lip-read)

And I have to say I agree with him. There’s not a lot to say really; Rooney, Campbell, Butt were all superb. Wayne Bridge and Steven Gerarrd were great in the second half but hugely wasteful in the first; Beckham was atrocious all night, his passing, finishing, crossing and free kicks were all way off the mark. Good penalty mind, and he did run himself silly. Could have got sent off, it’ll be interesting to see how the team do without him in Slovakia.

Talking of Beckham, he looked pretty wound up for long periods in the first half, I wonder if one of the Turkish players said something particularly offensive to him to wind him up so much. Whatever it was, he could learn a great deal from players like Emile Heskey, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell who have faced some horrendous racial abuse and countered it without kicking people up in the air and losing their cool.

‘If Turkey don’t hammer us on Wednesday it will only be because we bore them to death.’
— all things footie, 30 March 2003

Yes I was very wrong. I failed to take one thing into consideration though, the Heskey factor. The equation is simple Sven, no Heskey and England play well; include the cumbersome oaf and the whole team suffers. I’m not sure Owen helps either, and if his diving got as much press as Francis Jeffers’ then Arsenal fans would be less paranoid. Like Beckham, Owen looked pretty wound up for most of his time on the pitch, snatching at chances and miscontrolling simple balls (no change there then). I wonder if he’s pissed off at no longer being the golden boy of English football. The reception Wayne Rooney got from the fans was awesome, and his standing ovation more than deserved.

Just touching on the subject of the crowd, great noise everyone; the pitch invasions after each goal were worrying — have you ever seen so many Burberry caps in one place? The idiots trying to stop Turkish fans entering the ground should never be allowed to watch football again, wake up you morons, what are you so scared of? Did you honestly think you’d achieve anything other than looking stupid?

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